POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 25, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 10:02 a.m. HST, Oct 25, 2012
A World War II veteran in Honolulu who inspired many with his determination to vote even though he had end-stage liver cancer has died.
Frank Tanabe’s daughter Barbara Tanabe says he died Wednesday morning at her home. He was 93.
Hundreds of thousands of people saw a photo of Frank Tanabe filling out his absentee ballot with the help of his daughter last week, after his grandson Noah Tanabe posted the picture on the social media site Reddit.
Frank Tanabe served in a mostly Japanese-American unit of the Military Intelligence Service during WWII. He volunteered to join the Army from the Tule Lake internment camp in California.
Honolulu elections officials said his vote will be counted unless they receive his death certificate before the Nov. 6 election and are able to single out his ballot from those submitted.
A half-million people saw the picture on Reddit after Noah Tanabe posted it there last Thursday, making it one of the most popular items on the social media network for a day after.
“True Patriotism,” was the top rated comment on the post. “This is America. Amen,” was next, followed by “Thank you, Citizen.”
Doctors diagnosed Tanabe with an inoperable cancer tumor in his liver two months ago. He was in hospice care for the past three weeks at the home of his daughter Barbara, a public relations specialist and former KHON-TV reporter and anchor.
He was determined to vote regardless, eagerly asking when the ballot would be arriving in the mail, his daughter said. He filled it out immediately when it landed in the mailbox on Oct. 17.
Barbara Tanabe read aloud the names of the candidates to her dad. He either nodded “yes” to the names or shook his head “no.”
She filled in the boxes on his behalf, following his instructions even when he didn’t pick the candidates she preferred.
“There were some that were OK, but there were others where I said, ‘Dad, are you sure?’” she said.
But he knew what he was doing. He’s kept up on the issues, reading newspapers regularly until only recently, she said.
Tanabe volunteered to join the Army from behind barbed wire at the Tule Lake internment camp in California. He was pulled out of college at the University of Washington and taken to the camp when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered 110,000 Japanese-Americans detained and isolated after the start of the war with Japan.
The Army assigned Tanabe to the Military Intelligence Service, a classified unit whose members were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal last year along with soldiers who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team — highly decorated segregated units of mostly Japanese-Americans.
“I’d like to accept on behalf of all hyphenated Americans, including American-Americans,” Tanabe told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser at the time. “We all served together in defense of our country.”
Noah Tanabe said he thinks about his grandfather every time he votes.
“It’s hard to imagine — after his family business is torched, his family imprisoned, and denied the opportunity to finish his college education — he volunteered to serve. I don’t know if I would have done the same thing, but we are all very proud of him,” he said.
The family has been surprised and gratified by the online comments on the photo, Barbara Tanabe said.
“I think he feels like joining the Army, going to the camp, fighting in the war, and fighting discrimination — these were all things he did so that we have this precious right to vote,” she said. “For so many people to express their heartfelt tribute to my father was really, really heartwarming for us.”
Several Reddit commentators asked whether Tanabe’s vote would be counted if he passed away before Election Day on Nov. 6.
Glen Takahashi, Honolulu election administrator, said absentee ballots cast by voters who later die become invalid if the state Department of Health notifies elections officials of the death before Election Day. To void a ballot when that happens, officials have to be able to sort through tens of thousands of ballots to find the one in question. This is not always practical, and so the ballot is counted if it isn’t.
A similar situation arose in Honolulu four years ago when President Barack Obama’s grandmother died two nights before the election but after she mailed her absentee ballot. Hawaii counted her vote anyway because the Health Department didn’t receive her certificate of death before the election.
Barbara Tanabe said her father, a quiet, unassuming man, would wonder what the fuss over the photo was about. But he’d be thrilled it encouraged others to vote, she said.
“That would be the ultimate honor for him,” she said.